As the United States and International Security Assistance Force military campaign enters its eleventh year in October, it is apparent that the military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaida has hit an impasse, and a purely military solution remains a distant prospect.
Neither the Taliban and al Qaida has a unified command structure based in a particular locale, and their operations increasingly focus on “targets of opportunity,” from isolated forward operating bases to visiting dignitaries.
The 21 August rocketing by insurgents of the Afghan Bagram airbase, citadel of U.S. air power outside of Kabul, during the visit of U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey indicates a worrying penetration by insurgents of the highest levels of Afghan security, as information about Dempsey’s visit was tightly controlled and as Dempsey’s visit was hardly advertised.
Dempsey was injured in the assault, which caused minor damage to the C-17 aircraft and left two American members of the ground crew with minor injuries from shrapnel, according to U.S. officials.
More worrying to the Pentagon are the assaults by U.S. trained Afghan military forces on American forces - there have been 32 such attacks so far this year, up from 21for all of 2011, according to NATO.
But the U.S. and ISAF a have secret but hitherto underutilized weapon up their sleeve that the Taliban and al Qaida are powerless against – electricity, a “quality of life” issue that every Afghan can understand, not only as a benefit, but something that its two insurgent groups have signally failed to deliver.
(More from Oilprice.com: Why Ben Bernanke's QE3 is a Game Changer)
Better yet, it can involve the post-Soviets “Stans” neighbouring states, all of whom want the Afghan imbroglio so as to provide them with both a new energy market and a way out of their geographical isolation.
Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan are all seeking ways to provide Afghanistan with electricity.
Afghanistan remains largely dependent upon the international system for energy supplies. In 2008, for example, Afghanistan imported 120 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity and has imported 4,800barrels of oil per day (bpd) since 2010.
When it comes to supplying electricity to Afghanistan, Uzbekistan’s Uzbekenergo has quickly emerged as a major partner of Kabul.
Uzbekistan began sending electricity to its southern neighbour two years ago and Uzbekistan is now providing an uninterrupted supply of 1.2 billion kWh of electricity a year to Afghanistan, with the capital Kabul receiving electricity 24 hours a day courtesy of Tashkent.
Farther east, Tajikistan is pinning its hopes for hard currency on starting exporting electricity to Afghanistan. However, one of the country’s major stumbling blocks – corruption - is impacting upon proposed energy export deals. In February 2012 Tajik journalists uncovered a document regarding the country’s electricity distribution. The report, signed by Prime Minister Akil Akilov, noted that the country received only half the domestic electricity supply compared to the same period in the previous year. The Prime Minister also outlined that about 5.5 billion kWh – roughly one-third of the country’s electrical output -- was simply "lost."
(More from Oilprice.com: Could Plans to Build Nine Mega Coal Mines in Queensland Doom the Climate?)
Turkmenistan is also advancing into the Afghan energy market. On 10 September the Turkmen Energy Ministry announced that it will sign additional agreements with Afghanistan to increase its electricity supply and to extend until 31 December 2013previous contracts.
The U.S. administration has often talked about deploying “smart power” and “soft power” in its foreign policy. Perhaps it’s now time for Washington to add a third string to its rhetorical bow – “electrical power.”
The reality remains that neither the Taliban nor al Qaida ever delivered a single power plant to their constituents – and that a light bulb’s value, much less a water pumps, is comprehensible even to those that have never seen one. The fact that former Soviet Central Asian U.S. allies are doing the heavy lifting on providing the electricity is an added benefit.
Something to consider in the battle for “hearts and minds.”
By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com